The Telegraph reports: When the men of al-Qaeda came to the mountain town of Yabroud they wasted no time in making their ambitions clear.
Two foreign jihadists, their explosive belts clearly visible over their black uniforms, entered the mosque where Muslim residents were observing Friday prayers. The congregation watched, horrified, as the men stormed to the palpate and ordered the imam to leave.
They would be giving the sermons now, the al-Qaeda operatives explained; as has happened in many other towns and villages in Syria, the worshippers were to live under their “black flag”. Yabroud, they said, should be part of a wider Islamic caliphate.
As the words sunk in, the frightened hush that had fallen on the crowd in the mosque gave way to anger. Dissenting voices shouted at the suicide bombers. They were quickly joined by others, until, in a crescendo of furious yells, the worshippers faced down their occupiers. The al-Qaeda men, wild eyed and angry, were forced to retreat, the implied threat of the suicide vests never acted upon.
Though the incident happened in September, it remained the main the talk of the town when last week The Telegraph visited Yabroud, north of Damascus.
“Al-Qaeda came here to control us,” said Dia’a, 32, a male resident who had been in mosque that day. “We told them that we have our own people to preach to us. We told them we didn’t need them; we know what Islam is.”
In the two years since it fell out of the grip of President Bashar al-Assad, Yabroud has avoided the fate that has crippled so many other parts of rebel held Syria. Its residents have kept out foreign jihadists and avoided succumbing to warlords and mafia gangs. They have refused to allow the community to be torn apart by sectarianism or by a primordial scramble for money and power.
This moderate Sunni and Christian town, with its neat rows of houses and tidy tree-lined streets, has remained exemplary of the ideals of the peace activists who began the civil uprising against a dictatorship in 2011. It is a place where civilians, not armed fighters, have taken control of the town’s future, and brought a working alternative to Assad’s government. Yabroud is the model town of what the Syrian revolution could be. [Continue reading…]